New Mexico State of the Western Athletic Conference stunned sixth-ranked and previously unbeaten Miami 63-54 in the second of two semifinals of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic today at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Zach Lofton scored 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and hit a key 3-pointer with 57 seconds left, then AJ Harris (10 points) had a pickpocket steal and layup with 41 seconds remaining to help seal the outcome.
NMSU’s first win against a top-10 team since beating No. 7 UNLV on Jan. 8, 1990, sent the Aggies (11-2) on to the DHC championship game against USC (8-4) of the Pac-12. The teams meet 1 p.m. on Christmas.
Miami (10-1) shot just 34 percent from the field (including 2-for-18 on 3s) and committed 14 turnovers. DJ Vasiljevic led the Hurricanes with 15 points.
Resurgent USC can become the first two-time champion of the DHC after it survived a semifinal battle with Middle Tennessee, 89-84, earlier today.
Forwards Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright combined for 50 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists, while Elijah Stewart had two huge corner 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give USC (8-4) of the Pac-12 the buffer it needed to survive the potent Blue Raiders (8-3) of Conference USA.
Metu shot 11-for-15 from the field for 27 points with nine rebounds, while Boatwright — who was ejected in Friday’s opening-round win over Akron — bounced back with 23 points, six rebounds and six assists.
The Trojans, who won the inaugural DHC of 2009, will face the winner of today’s 5 p.m. game between No. 6 Miami and New Mexico State on Christmas Day. This season USC has been dogged by an FBI investigation, an ineligible player and injuries.
“It’ll be big (if we win), give us momentum going into Pac-12 (play),” Boatwright said. “So, we’re going to lock in and try to come out with a W. … It’s been tough to get a rhythm when guys are in and out of the rotation. But we have so many guys that are ready to step up, it’s making it easy.”
Aaron’s triples staked USC to an 82-76 lead. Then, when MTSU hung around, Metu touch-passed the ball to Boatwright for a layup and a seven-point lead with 22.7 seconds remaining to ice the victory.
Forward Nick King led MTSU with 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Host Hawaii (7-3) faces Davidson (4-5) of the Atlantic 10 Conference in today’s 7:30 p.m. consolation semifinal.